• Charlie Plant

Travels with Charlie: Doors Not Destinations


Being well into my eighth decade of life now, I have a long-haul view. My own life has had twists and turns I never could have imagined. I don’t know of anyone’s life who hasn’t. Looking back, I see that my life has been a series of doors, not destinations. Schools, perhaps because of the limited time frame, seem especially focused on the destination, as if once you graduate, you have arrived. Or once you get into college, get a career, a spouse, or a house you have arrived.


I have spent over 30 years as a tradesperson, a painter and wallpaper hanger, both in the union and running a small business. I have been a teacher and high school principal for over 24 years. I also have been a taxi driver in Chicago, a school bus driver, a salesman in New York and Los Angeles, assembled huge earth moving articulated tractors for Allis-Chalmers, slapped dough on a Sara Lee assembly line, waited on tables, been on the production line for Abbott Laboratories, and been a linesman’s helper for a power company. And oh yes, I have a bachelors and masters degree, and am working on a doctorate. It’s been a full and varied work life.


The 21st century will offer even more varied and fast changing occupational opportunities, and demands. The Harbor Freight Fellows Initiative is a partnership between Big Picture Learning and the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Foundation to help prepare trades bound youth by getting them out in the real world of professionals, to earn, to learn, and to connect. We aim to help them deepen their interest in the chosen trade, develop their skills, and enter the community of skilled professionals that will sustain them as they move through their own professional growth and careers.


But the real gift, the true benefit acquired is the self-confidence, self-respect and respect for one’s peers that comes with competence, and acceptance into a community. And those who work in the trades are a community – a very special one. I will write more about that in the future. But the internal strength that comes from finding one’s niche and mastering it brings the ability to go through life’s doors, whatever they may be. It is not a destination in itself, but a set of tools for living.


When you reflect on your own life, what are some of the doors you have had to walk through? Have been able to push open and pass on? There are some in my life which to my regret I was unable to step through. But more of that later.


Thanks, I’ll be back.


This is one of the many aspects of Big Picture schools I appreciate – that the focus is on tapping and developing interest rather than career prep. Depth of interest opens doors.


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Harbor Freight Fellows is a trades initiative powered by Big Picture Learning.